DHS will only refer nonviolent cases to Building Bridges, Clour said. And there will be some supervision through video cameras. There will be four visitation rooms equipped with a table and chairs, furniture, toys and games. Parents also will be taught skills to better take care of their children.
The single-story brick building across from the State Department of Mental Health at 1200 NE 13 will undergo a modest remodeling of less than $10,000 before opening.
Clour also has had other area charities step forward to donate toys and other household items.
A full-time staffer will be hired as well as several case aides to help with transportation. Building Bridges will be open Monday through Friday, and sometimes on weekends.
"This is going to help us reduce the number of kids in foster care in the long term," Clour said.
"Currently the length of stay is longer in Oklahoma County than it is in Tulsa County, and we want that to change."
Even with the building already in place and the budget for the remodel secured, it's still a substantial project.
The initial idea came from a graduate student working at DHS who wrote a thesis paper on visitation in the spring. Since then it's been a whirlwind of meetings and planning.
"It's a pretty huge undertaking," Assistant DHS County Director Gene Gissandaner said.
"When we looked around the nation there aren't a lot of places like this out there. The ones that do exist are geared more toward divorcing families. But the reward is huge because you're helping families come together while working toward permanent unification."
And that's better for everyone involved, including taxpayers and the families themselves.
"The long-term benefits include reducing the costs of foster care and reduced trauma for the children," Clour said.
"Having them back with their loved ones is important because the longer they are away, the greater the risk for long-term behavior